Stratford 26 Burton 24
Midlands West One
STRATFORD had to show plenty of attacking verve and defensive steel to hold off promotion rivals and regain top spot.
With only three points separating the teams and both losing the previous week there was everything to play for at Pearcecroft but the Black and Whites always had their noses in front.
For the first five minutes the wind and Stratford’s keen defence kept Burton pinned back into their own 22. The pressure paid dividends when the ball was turned-over and quickly chipped over the top of the Burton defence.
In the ensuing scramble the ball was fumbled and winger Callum Cook pounced just as it rolled over the line for an opportunistic try next to the posts. Nath Geekie, playing at fullback, kicked the extras to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
For the next 15 minutes Stratford were forced to defend for much of the time. But great pressure by the Stratford players, a feature throughout the match, forced a turnover to precede a second score. A long pass out to the right wing was fielded by Cook who crossed the line in the corner for his second try. Unconverted this time the score moved to 12-0.
Burton were dominating the scrum, with Stratford being pushed back by the much heavier pack. After a Burton try was disallowed because the last pass was adjudged to have been forward , the visitors then were able to disrupt the ensuing Stratford scrum and steal the ball and this time the try stood, 12-5.
Stratford hit back just a few minutes later. Despite a Stratford scrum on halfway being shoved backwards at a rate of knots, flanker Jimmy Richardson somehow emerged with the ball and set off down the right-hand touchline. Some deft interchanges with Cook and scrum-half Drew Pritchard saw the No. 9 clear into the corner. Geekie judged the wind to perfection for his conversion and Stratford led 19-5.
Burton were straight back on the attack for their captain to score under the posts. The easy conversion, despite the wind, put Burton right back in touch at 19-12 and in the second half they would have the advantage of the wind.
The gap was narrowed even further soon into the second period. Stratford tried to play their way out of the 22 but a chasing Burton player managed to intercept a pass for an easy run into the left corner to cut the deficit to 19-17.
Stratford’s pack, however, was starting to hold their own at the scrum and even made some turnovers.
Burton counter-attacked but this time it was Stratford’s turn to intercept when sub Andy Conway swooped in and ran in under the posts. The conversion was a given and Stratford had opened the gap up to a healthier 26-17.
Burton’s frustration resulted in them losing a flanker to the sin bin for ten minutes which eased the pressure on Stratford slightly at a crucial point in the game.
Just five minutes from time Stratford mounted yet another attack from the half-way line. Unfortunately a pass went astray and Burton pounced on the loose ball and used extra numbers out wide for a score on the right. The conversion was good and at 26-24 it was going to be tense end to the match.
Stratford were up to the task though and that is how the match finished. It was a well-deserved win for the home side who battled throughout the full eighty minutes as a team.
Burton played well for their two bonus points but could not find a way to counter the Stratford determination. Man of the match went to flanker Richardson.
League leaders Bridgnorth had their match against bottom-placed Walsall postponed so the five points for Stratford put them right back at the top of the league standings.
The next game is away on Saturday at Dudley Kingswinford, kick-off 2.15pm.